Dear Pearl and Tristan,
I hope this finds you both well.
I’ve recently read Pearl’s series of tweets over the last few days asking whether the Prophet Muhammadsa really married Aishara when she was six years old, and then consummated the marriage at nine.
Pearl, your tweets received many millions of views, and the engagement of the famous Tristan Tate. Tristan, like so many others, you didn’t deny this idea, but instead, said it wasn’t particularly weird for historical times.
As you’ll have experienced, this has led to a huge back and forth between dogmatic Muslim ‘historians’, influencers, and the equivalent from non-Muslims.
Some said it was weird for the times, and some said it wasn’t.
Some said it did happen, and some said it definitely didn’t, etc…
The whole thing is clearly quite a confusing issue. And as Pearl has pointed out, it’s worrying because if child marriage is allowed in Islam, then Muslims can claim it’s a legitimate practice for them even in today’s world.
In this article, I’m going to highlight where the confusion comes from; explain what Islam actually teaches about child marriage, and give a rational explanation for the actual age that Aisha married, based on the available evidence.
I’m going to show that the evidence tells us three things:
- The Quran teaches that men should marry women, not little girls.
- The idea that Aishara was six, or nine, is nonsense.
- That Aishara was at least 14 years old when she got married, and possibly older.
I sincerely hope that both of you, and all your followers, take the time to read this carefully and consider the points contained in it.
(And by the way, the little superscript letters after names are short for Arabic terms of honour — just in case you’re wondering!)
What Islam Teaches & How We Know It
We know what Islam teaches through the Quran. This has been preserved since the time of revelation in the 7th Century. It is a perfectly reliable text.
We also know about what Islam teaches through the practice of the Prophet himself. He showed his followers, who showed their followers, etc, right until the current day.
Those practices, as well as the sayings of the Prophet were recorded in what are called ‘traditions’ or ‘hadith’. The ‘hadith literature’ (ie. oral traditions that were written down) also contain historical information about the era. They were compiled roughly from 150 years after the death of the Prophet of Islamsa. They’re reliable compared to other religious scriptures, but definitely aren’t fully reliable.
The Quran Does Not Permit Men to Marry Girls
The Quran is quite clear that men are supposed to marry women, not little girls.
“And if you fear that you will not be fair in dealing with the orphans, then marry of women as may be agreeable to you, two, or three, or four; and if you fear you will not deal justly, then marry only one or what your right hands possess. That is the nearest way for you to avoid injustice.”Quran 4:4
This verse, and so many others of the Quran, say that we should marry women. The Arabic for this is ‘nisaa‘ — which in common usage always refers to women, and not little girls. This meaning is also supported by several Arabic dictionaries. Lane’s Lexicon, for instance, says that nisaa is the plural of mar’ah, (مَرْأَةٌ) which is the feminine of the word that means ‘man as opposed to child.’ So it actually specifies a non-child female!
The Quran itself also follows this usage. Nisaa is used in the Quran to refer to females who have periods, and who may be pregnant during a divorce period. Apart from marginal and exceptional cases, pregnancy and menstruation occur in females who are well into their teenage years. This is also the intuitive time when girls become women, and therefore nisaa is understood as applying to girls around this age.
Not only this, but there is no permission in the Quran saying men can marry little girls. There are several Arabic words for this — none are used in the Quran.
This should make it clear that according to Islam, men marry women, and not pre-pubescent girls!
Now that we’ve established this, we need to then look at the practice of the Prophet. If there is indeed good evidence that he married a six or nine year old, it would seem to contradict the Quran. This would be a problem for Muslims.
However, there is no good evidence he did marry Aishara at this age, and there’s a whole load of evidence that she was in her mid-to-late teens.
Where Did the Confusion Come From?
The most authoritative compilation of written traditions is called ‘Sahih Bukhari.’ In this collection, we find the following narration:
Aishara narrates that the Prophet (ﷺ) married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years (i.e., till his death).Sahih al-Bukhari 5133
Because it’s in what is generally a pretty reliable compilation, it means the tradition needs to be considered. And that it has been — at length!
The conclusion that many have come to is that this narration has serious problems, and that we shouldn’t trust it as being accurate.
Firstly, there are serious issues around the narration’s reliability. It was narrated by a man, Hisham, when he was very elderly, and was known to have serious cognitive impairment. This already makes the accuracy of the tradition questionable, since his memory may have been failing him. Even more so, it took another 40 years after he said it, for it to be written down — adding in more time for errors to creep in.
Secondly, this compilation of Bukhari has conflicting narrations about the age of her marriage. As the Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community discussed in an extensive piece on the issue, other narrations give different times for her marriage.
Thirdly, even if reliable, the tradition may just be inaccurate. It refers back to Aishara herself remembering the age of her marriage when she was much older. So even if we generously assume the content of the narration is true, Aishara could have simply misremembered. This was in a time before calendars and iPhones and when people were generally illiterate. So she could have simply forgotten the exact ages as no-one was keeping personal records in the way we do now.
Not just this, but if we assume the narration is accurate, Aisha could have simply been speaking in idiomatic way. In Arabic, sixteen and nineteen is said as ‘six and ten’ and ‘nine and ten’. Sometimes the latter number is understood as an obvious fact, so that only the first number is specified. So ‘six’ and ‘nine’ may have meant 16 and 19. (This was explained more by the scholar Asif Basit of the magazine Al Hakam).
Overall, we can say that we should not trust this single tradition, and try and legitimise child-marriage through it! The Quran does not allow it and this tradition has serious reliability and accuracy problems.
Better Calculations for the Age of Marriage
To find out the age of Aishara in her marriage, we don’t need to rely on this single unreliable tradition. We have other means for figuring this out.
If we know the year of her marriage, and the year of her birth, then a simple subtraction of one from the other will give us the wanted age.
Age of Birth
Regarding the date of her birth, there are two possibilities. The first is narrated by Ibn e Sa’d. He states that Aisha was born in late 613 or early 614 — the fourth lunar year of the Prophet’s ministry (4 Nabawi), which began in 610.
The second possibility is mentioned by the historian Tabari, who states that Aisha was born in the pre-Islamic period, that is, either early in the year 610 CE, or before this year. In fact, he states that all the children of Aisha’sra father were born before this period:
“In the Age of Ignorance [pre-Islamic period], Abu Bakr married Qutaila daughter of `Abd al-`Uzza…and she bore for him `Abdullah and Asmaa…he also married, in the Age of Ignorance, Umm Ruman daughter of `Amir…she bore for him `Abd al-Rahman and `Aisha. All four of these children were born in the pre-Islamic period.”Tabari, Tarikh al-Tabari: Chap. Year 13, Section ‘Mention of the Names of the Wives of Abu Bakr al-Siddeeq’. Publ. Dar al-Ma`arif, Egypt (1962), vol. 3, pg. 425-6
So we have two dates, giving us a minimum of a three to four year difference in the date of her birth: 613/614, or before early 610.
The date of her marriage seems to be 624 CE, though some say it was 623. We’ll assume it was 624 as it appears to be the better estimate.
Therefore, her age of marriage depends pretty much on which date of birth we accept. If she was born early in 613 CE, that makes her 11 years old at the time of marriage to the Prophet Muhammadsa. If born in the pre-Islamic period, she is at least 14 years of age when born to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be on him, and possiibly older.
Which Date of Birth is Correct?
A simple indication of which to pick is found in traditions which state that Aishara was one of the earliest individuals to accept Islam. This was recorded by Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Hisham, the earliest biographers of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
The former, for example, is reported to have stated that:
“(Aisha) embraced Islam when she was young (sageerah), after eighteen others had become Muslim.”Nawawi, Kitab Tahdhib al-asmaa wal-lughaat: Chap. Biography of Aisha Mother of the Believers, Publ. Dar al-kutub al-`ilmiyya, Lebanon, vol. 2, pg. 351
To be in the first two dozen believers in Islam means that she must have been alive during the first couple of years of Islam. For this to be true, one must believe she was born in the pre-Islamic period, and reject the statement of Ibn e Sa’d that she was born in 613-614 CE. After all, how could she accept Islam two to three years before she was even born?
The narration says that she accepted Islam when she was young, and counts her separately to her father, who was the second believer in Islam. The fact that she is counted separately, while specified as being ‘young’, indicates that she was a young girl but not a newborn baby. She had to actually have some awareness of her environment to separately ‘accept’ Islam. This would indicate that she was born perhaps a couple of years before 610 CE.
From the above, we can see that the calculation of her birth in the pre-Islamic era is much more likely; in fact, taking into account her registration as the nineteenth person to accept Islam, it is the only explanation that makes sense.
Putting It Altogether
If the year of marriage was 623, she was an absolute minimum of 13 years old. However, the year of marriage seems to be 624, making her a realistic minimum of 14 years old. And since she seems to have been born before 610, she could have been even older.
The great scholar Zarfullah Khanra, for instance, puts her date of birth at 609, making her 15 years old at the time of marriage. There are other ways of getting to the conclusions above, covered here and here.
But for now, we can be conservative, and say that she was born in 610 rather than before, as the evidence suggests. Even with this, we have demonstrated three things:
- The Quran teaches that men should marry women, not little girls.
- The idea that Aisha was six, or nine, is nonsense.
- That Aisha was at least 14 years old when she got married, while being probably older.
Critics of the Prophetsa, intent on showing that he married a child, cite other traditions to attempt to prove this allegation of child-marriage.
For the sake of completeness, I’m going to address these points too in the appendix.
However, the discussion above should be sufficient to demonstrate that a mathematical and logical approach to this issue reveals that the Prophet of Islam did not marry a little girl. He married Aisha when she was around her mid-teens, 1400 years ago.
If you’ve gotten this far, Pearl, Tristan, or anyone else, then thank you for your precious time. May God enlighten you and help you understand the life of the Prophet Muhammadsa more deeply and fully.
In this regard, may I recommend the following book. It is called “Life of Muhammad” by the Second Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, who was a prolific scholar and a truly saintly individual.
If ever you are looking to talk, whether on camera or off camera about what Islam really stands for and teaches, myself and the rest of the Rational Religion team, will always be on hand. You can find our YouTube channel (considerably more modest than your platforms), below:
Tahir Nasser & Umar Nasser
Too Young to Bake Bread?
An important hadith often cited by critics of Prophet Muhammadsa is the following:
About the story of Aisha and their narrations were similar attesting each other, when the liars said what they invented about Aisha, and the Divine Inspiration was delayed, Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) sent for Ali and Usama to consult them in divorcing his wife (i.e.Aisha). Usama said, “Keep your wife, as we know nothing about her except good.” Barirah said, “I cannot accuse her of any defect except that she is still a young girl who sleeps, neglecting her family’s dough which the domestic goats come to eat (i.e. she was too simpleminded to deceive her husband).” Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “Who can help me to take revenge over the man who has harmed me by defaming the reputation of my family? By Allah, I have not known about my family-anything except good, and they mentioned (i.e. accused) a man about whom I did not know anything except good.”Sahih al-Bukhari 2637
On the basis of Barirah stating that “she is still a young girl who sleeps, neglecting her family’s dough which the domestic goats come to eat”, many critics concluded that she was literally a young girl. In reality though, this is in no way delineates whether an individual is in her mid-to late teens as compared to someone who is pre-pubescent.
In fact, the very fact that this was a criticism is evidence that the person is of an age that they can cook and are expected to understand how dough is baked into bread. This cannot be reasonably expected of a child. Therefore this comment about Aishara is indicative of an older age.
Her Own Admission of Young Age?
Aisha said, “While the Ethiopians were playing with their small spears, Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) screened me behind him and I watched (that display) and kept on watching till I left on my own.” So you may estimate of what age a young woman, recently of age, may listen to amusement.Sahih al-Bukhari 5190
Sadly, many choose to deliberately mistranslate this tradition, and change the words “young woman, recently of age” to “a little girl who has not reached the age of puberty“. This, for example, is the behaviour of Ridvan Aydemir, who goes by the moniker of “Apostate Prophet” in his video content.
If you read the tradition, instead of depending on dodgy translations, you’ll see that Aishara is described here as a “Jariyah” as she watches some Ethiopians play in the mosque. In Arabic, “Jariyah” can mean anything from a girl to an old woman, though mainly it is used for those who are younger. So, which is it? Aishara herself tells us.
Aishara describes her age with the words حديثة السن , which mean “recently of age”. Therefore, the hadith itself specifies the type of “Jariyah” she is. She is explicitly stating that she is a young woman who has recently completed puberty or recently come of age to adulthood.
So it doesn’t mean pre-pubescent but a young women who has recently entered into womanhood. In fact, that’s what the explicit words of the hadith are. Instead of being honest and translating it as “recently come of age”, critics translate it as the exact opposite: “not yet of pubertal age”.
Dishonest, but not surprising.
Playing with Dolls?
I used to play with the dolls in the presence of the Prophet, and my girlfriends also used to play with me. When Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) used to enter (my dwelling place) they used to hide themselves, but the Prophet would call them to join and play with me. (The playing with the dolls and similar images is forbidden, but it was allowed for `Aisha at that time, as she was a little girl, not yet reached the age of puberty.Fath-ul-Bari page 143, Vol.13/Sahih al-Bukhari 6130
Many critics argue that this hadith is proof that she was a child when married to the Prophet of Islam.
However, nothing in this tradition states that she was married to him at the time. The person who was closest to the Prophet Muhammadsa was Abu Bakrra, the father of Aishara.
In fact, Abu Bakrra was the closest friend of the Prophetsa even before his claim to prophethood! It is not surprising that in her childhood when she would be playing with dolls, the Prophet Muhammadsa should have entered the house of Abu Bakrra and that she would have remembered this and narrated it as an incident from her childhood. That this is what is going on, is indicated by her words “my dwelling place”. Why would she specify her own dwelling place, if she was living at the same place as the Prophet Muhammadsa, in his house? It would then be his dwelling place, or at the very least, their dwelling place.
In fact there are multiple hadith that all state very similar things, all originating from Aishara. None of them state that she was playing with dolls as a child while married to him. All of them state that when she was young, she used to play with dolls, and that when the Prophet Muhammadsa entered her home, prompting her friends to run away, he would call them back.
There is one hadith that refers to her having dolls while married to him, but it is clear that they are dolls from her childhood. In this hadith, she isn’t playing with the dolls, but, in fact, laughing about them. Just as many people keep their childhood toys into adulthood, so too did Aishara. She states:
Aisha told that when God’s Messenger arrived after the expedition to Tabuk or Hunain the wind raised an end of a curtain which was placed before her storeroom, revealing some dolls which belonged to her. He asked her what this was and she replied that they were her dolls. Among them he saw a horse with wings made of rags and asked what that was that he saw among them. She told him that it was a horse, and when he asked what it was that it had on it and she replied that it had wings, he said, “A horse with wings!” She replied, “Have you not heard that Solomon had horses with wings?” She said that he laughed so heartily that she could see his back teeth.Mishkat al-Masabih 3265
In fact, this hadith demonstrates that the Prophet of Islamsa was not well acquainted with the toys of Aishara. The battles of Tabuk and Hunain occurred in 630 CE.
Even had she been married when she was nine years old, she would have been fifteen years old at this event. Had she been playing with these dolls in the early part of their marriage as a child, and had the Prophet of Islamsa seen them and been well acquainted with them, then what was the need for these questions?
The Wisdom in Marrying Aishara
As we can see, assertions and arguments that she was married at nine are invalid. Depending on which of the two dates you accept for her date of birth, Aisha was at a minimum of eleven, and if the more likely of the two dates is accepted, she was a minimum of fourteen years old, and possibly older. Marrying women in their late teens has been the norm in all cultures universally before the modern age. Even today, many western women are in sexual relationships at this age, though they are not generally married.
The ultimate criticism is that the Prophet of Islamsa was, God forbid, desirous of young girls and women. The critics don’t consider that actually, when he was a young man, he chose to marry a woman fifteen years older than him, Khadijara . Contrary to the practice of the day, he remained in a monogamous relationship with her for twenty five years. Only once she died, did he marry other women for various purposes, but even then, of the nine women he married after Khadijara, all of them were either widows or divorcees, with only Aishara being young and virginal.
From this in itself we can see how false the allegation is that he was a lustful man. Do kings, when given their pick of women to choose from, exclusively choose older women, divorcees and widows? Of course not. But he married them to honour them, to raise their station, and for various other purposes relating to tribal alliances.
But what then was the wisdom in marrying Aishara? The wisdom is profound. A wife is the best witness of the ways and habits of a husband. By marrying a young woman, he ensured that her witnessing of his way of life spread to a large portion of humanity through her. She outlived him by forty six years, during which period she was among the most esteemed teachers of the Muslims, who grew to cover a huge mass of humanity in that time. Indeed, he himself told humanity to learn from her, commanding his followers to “learn half your faith from Aisha”. This was the wisdom in choosing a young woman as one of his wives. He ensured that his words and deeds lived on in a majestic and powerful way, with her becoming one of the most prolific narrators of his statements and sayings.